You can travel the entire length of the eastern seaboard of the nation by driving along U.S. Route 1. This fabled highway starts in the Maine/Canadian border town of Fort Kent and ends at Key West, Florida. It became a popular route during the Prohibition years when enterprising Canadians used it to transport undocumented beverages to thirsty Mainers and beyond.
Over time the highway became a much traveled route for more suitable ventures and would bring commerce and vacationers to this vast portion of Maine known as Aroostook County.
Everything about “The County,” as the locals prefer to call this area, is measured in superlatives. It is the largest and most northern section of the state and the largest county east of the Mississippi River.
It is bordered on three sides – north, east and west – by the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec. It covers 6,672 square miles, most of which is wilderness dominated by vast forests in the west. These woodlands are the source of timber used in the production of lumber and paper which makes a major contribution to Maine’s economy.
The eastern section of the County has rolling hills of fertile soil used for farming such crops as broccoli, peas and Maine’s premier produce product, potatoes. Scattered around the county are more than 2,000 lakes, ponds and rivers covering more than 80,000 acres.
All of this expanse is wonderful news for visitors who love the outdoors. It provides an outstanding natural setting for recreational pursuits, such as camping, fishing, canoeing and sightseeing.
The chronicles of Aroostook County started prior to the existence of Route 1. For centuries this wilderness was the home of the Micmacs and Maliseets Native American tribes. In the mid-1700s French-Acadians established settlements in places like Van Buren. They honor their legacy and culture at the Acadian Historic Village which consists of 16 buildings depicting their poignant history.
Swedish families migrated to America in the mid-1800s with the encouragement of Governor Joshua Chamberlain. He wanted to help establish an agricultural community and counted on the hearty nature of the Swedes to endure the demanding weather of northern Maine.
Twenty families arrived and settled in the current day villages of New Sweden and Stockholm. While here they gave birth to Nordic skiing by introducing “skidors” or long Swedish snowshoes as a way to travel in the deep snow. The popularity of cross country skiing followed wherever people wanted to explore snow covered terrain.
The multi-cultural heritage of many towns is celebrated with colorful fairs, festivals and ethnic events that make a visit here both enlightening and fun. You can’t get much farther north in Maine than Madawaska, the site of the “Acadian Festival,” Maine’s largest cultural event. It commemorates the early Acadian settlers in the St. John Valley. During the summer solstice the – Midsomar Celebrations – recreates the traditions honored by the Swedish community.
Other festivals acknowledge Maine’s natural resources, such as Houlton’s Potato Feast Day which pay tribute to the coming potato harvest and the Maine Potato Blossom Festival held in Fort Fairfield.
Fort Kent offers another view of the rich mixture of international cultures. It also serves as the entrance to the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, a great recreational area. Nearby the Allagash and St. John Rivers merge and make a favorite setting for canoeists and whitewater rafters. The Fort Kent Blockhouse built in 1839 served to help resolve a border dispute with Canada.
As you tour the area visit Houlton, the oldest community in the County and Caribou which serves as the gateway to the lakes region.
Presque Isle is the County’s largest city and home of the University of Maine, Aroostook State Park and the site of the annual Northern Maine Fair.
In keeping with the vastness of the area it is should come as no surprise that our own Solar System is represented in a dramatic model in the County. Using a scale of 1 mile equaling about 93 million miles the model places our Sun in Presque Isle and stretches south along Route 1 for 40 miles. Each planet is represented in location at the appropriate distance from the “Sun.” You can visit Earth at a car dealership and Pluto in Houlton.
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